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Elizabethtown Legislator Says Pa. Education Secretary Ignored Input

Elizabethtown’s state representative said he is deeply disappointed with the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Rep. Dave Hickernell, the Republican majority chairman of the House Education Committee, expressed his disappointment along with his Senate counterpart, state Sen. John Eichelberger, a Republican from Blair County.

Federal law calls for each state to develop a plan to implement ESSA “with timely and meaningful consultation” with members of the state legislatures, but Hickernell and Eichelberger said state Education Secretary Pedro Rivera largely ignored legislative comments and input.

“Senator Eichelberger and I submitted comments and concerns regarding the State Plan because we felt there was a significant lack of detail missing from PDE’s draft,” Hickernell said. “As Secretary Rivera has said many times, the new ESSA law is a once in a decade opportunity to chart a new course in an effort to ensure Pennsylvania’s students receive a high-quality education regardless of ZIP code.”

Hickernell said the plan notes that many important details related to the proposed accountability system have yet to be determined, such as the academic cut points which will be used to designate inadequate school performance in identifying struggling schools and the uniform statewide “exit criteria” which will be used to evaluate the ongoing progress of these schools, which leaves him worried.

“Our comments specifically requested that PDE provide clear direction in the plan regarding the respective levels of performance and progress that schools will need to demonstrate in order to meet federal targets,” Hickernell said. “I continue to believe that these elements should be included in the plan going forward to ensure that the identification process is transparent and predictable for schools.”

Above all, Hickernell believes the accountability system proposed by the plan must be understandable and meaningful to students, parents, and the general public.

“The plan also pursues a new public-facing school accountability system, in addition to what is already required under state law, and, as it’s currently proposed, this new system will not provide a clear, summative assessment of how schools are doing,” Hickernell said. “Not only is existence of multiple systems unnecessarily costly, but I also believe that a new system that does not include a summative rating may limit the ability of users to meaningfully compare schools.”

Rivera, however, defended the plan, which his department submitted on Monday, Sept. 18.

“Pennsylvania’s ESSA Consolidated State Plan presented the department with an opportunity to shape education in the commonwealth for years to come, a charge we did not take lightly,” Rivera said. “Our extensive efforts to engage in meaningful discussions with everyone from parents to educators to community members helped inform decision-making, and ultimately create a comprehensive plan that recognizes and addresses the needs of schools and students across the state.”

Highlights of the plan include a focus on providing a “well-rounded education” to students, by identifying the subjects and disciplines that should be part of every child’s education, including the arts, social sciences, health and physical education, STEM and computer science, and other areas; broadening the scope of the indicators used to measure school success; a reduction of testing time on the Pennsylvania State System of Assessments in English language arts and mathematics by 20 percent beginning in spring 2018 for students in grades three through eight; strategies for addressing the needs of students through school-based supports and community partnerships; a strong focus on evidence-based professional development for educators and administrators that emphasizes equity; and identifying ways to prepare students to successfully enter postsecondary education, career programs, apprenticeship programs, or even the workforce.

Additionally, the development of the Future Ready PA Index, a new, public-facing school report card that expands the indicators used to measure school performance, and extends the comprehensive approach to ensuring student and school success. The Index will place additional emphasis on academic growth, evaluation of school climate through a robust chronic absenteeism measure, attention to both four-year and extended-year graduation rates, and assessments of postsecondary readiness.

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